February 03, 2011

retirees dole out cash...

Over the next couple days Grandparents around Korea will give cash for bows to eager grandchildren. I know that you might be thinking that this is some scheme concocted by the Korean government in the same tradition of the American 'cash for clunkers' program. I assure you however, that this is not the case. If anyone was inspired, it would be the Korean cultural tradition inspiring the frail American car industry. 

'음력설날' (Eum-nyeok Seollal, englishee = Lunar New Year) or,
'설날' (Soellal, englishee = New Year) for short, is a three day holiday in Korea that falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Last year it was my first weekend in Korea. It is a holiday in which the entire city shuts down, and I'm pretty serious when I say the city shuts down. In passing I say that Calgary shuts down for the Stampede, but that is to party, get hammered, and pass out. More or less Calgary enjoys a white collar shut down, while Seoul becomes a ghost town. last year, I remember having a very difficult time finding any food as families flock out of the cities into the countryside to visit with their relatives. This can be verified after an 'hour' bus ride took two and half hours to complete yesterday.

The 'bowing' I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago refers to'세배' (sebae). This is a Korean cultural tradition where children honour and wish their elders a happy new year. They utter the phrase '새해 복 많이 받으세요' (saehae bok manhi badeuseyo) which translates to 'please receive many blessings in the new year', and perform a single deep bow while dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean garb). Grandparents are not the only elders that are bowed to, children bow to aunts. uncles, and parents as well. The 'reward', if you could call it such is crisp clean money. 

My children snag more dough through their bows than I do in a couple months of work. Considering that most parents cannot affort the tuition for this kind of education, my students can hardly be considered the average in Korea (post looming on that subject matter). Either way, my students cash out on this holiday. I spoke to several students who earn a couple thousand dollars in a couple simple minutes. I can't vouch for any confirmed numbers, but a couple students proclaimed amounts bordering $10,000. These are children with large families, and my children won't have to worry about this for long as Korea the lowest birthrate among developed nations (1.2) consider Canada (1.66) and the replacement level fertility rate is 2.2.

The Koreans have adopted 'western' holidays into their culture, Valentine's Day for example is a marketing success story in Korea (stay tuned... blog upcoming!). I'd seriously like to propose Seollal to Hallmark. It could be a great way to redistribute the wealth in the tough economic conditions experienced worldwide. Hear me out, when the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) start to retire, they will do so with more money than any generation before them. If Hallmark and I could hash out the details we could arrange for children to bow to their elders in an effort to redistribute the cash. This plan has major problems, as the money would only stay within families, so if your whole family is out of work, or prominently blue collar, you may only receive rug-burn for improperly performed sebae.

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